When you sit down in the exam hall for your HSC Chemistry examination, the paper in front of you will contain questions from all four modules that you’ve studied this year.
The questions can come in any order from these modules and will have a range of marks awarded for each question. In this entry, I’d like to walk you through how the exam is structured so you can best plan for how to maximise your marks!
How is the HSC Chemistry exam structured?
Your exam is broken down into two sections:
Section I: 20 multiple choice questions worth 20 marks (1 mark each)
The section is roughly structured from easiest to hardest with the first few questions being quite simple, and progressively getting more difficult towards Question 20. However, there are always some calculation questions throughout that would normally be worth more than 1 mark, except when they are asked as a multiple-choice question.
Section II: Short answer and extended response questions worth 80 marks (marks per question may vary from 1 to 7 marks)
This section includes all different types of questions, typically with a range of verbs as per the HSC Glossary of Key Terms (e.g. Identify, Explain, Assess, Justify, Compare). There is also typically two longer response questions, 7-8 marks each, that require you to draw on a significant portion of information, likely from multiple modules simultaneously. For example, in the 2019 HSC Chemistry Paper, the largest questions by marks available were questions 29c and 34:
How long should I spend on each question/section?
You will be given 5 minutes of reading time and then 3 hours of working time, which equates to 180 minutes in total. For the 100 marks, this means that you have 1.8 minutes for every mark on average.
So, for the multiple-choice section with 20 marks, you should be spending a maximum of 36 minutes to finish this section, and for the remaining questions you have 144 minutes, or 2 hours and 24 minutes. This assumes you would have no time remaining and that you don’t move through easy questions more quickly than the harder questions.
How should I structure my approach to the exam?
One method I can suggest for approaching the exam is to actually start from Question 21 – that is, at the start of Section II.
This is because you can often get bogged down working through the multiple-choice section, and you get no reward for an incorrect answer, regardless of the effort you put in. To put that another way, if you spend 5 minutes on a calculation question and get it wrong, you obviously get 0 marks, but if this same question was worth 2-3 marks in Section II, you could at least get 1 or 2 marks for writing down your working if it was almost correct. You can also work through a chunk of Section I in the 5 minutes of reading time to at least lock in some of the easier multiple-choice questions.
So, I suggest starting from Section II immediately and work your way through. If you come across questions that you are completely stumped for, feel free to more along to later questions that you are confident with and make sure you get your answers down for those questions to lock those marks in. Then, one you’ve completed all the questions you are confident with, you can go back to Section I and then attempt all the questions you weren’t sure about or had completely blanked.
To put that into a step-wise structure:
– Work through as much of Section I as you can in reading time.
– Start with Question 21 in Section II when your 3 hours starts, and finish all the questions you are confident with.
– Go back to Section I and attempt all other questions, making sure you don’t spend more than your allocated 36 minutes overall on Section I
– Go back to Section II and attempt the remaining questions
– If you have remaining time, have another go at any multiple choice questions you were unsure of, and finalise your extended response questions (6-8 mark long responses)
Need some extra help? We’ve got you covered at Talent 100
Drop into our of our Talent 100 Learning Centres (Burwood, Chatswood, Epping, Hurstville & Sydney CBD), so you can brush-up on your Chemistry skills before exams start. We’ve also created our own handy Pocket Guide containing data sheets for Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry – they can be found by asking our Student Services team at the front desk!
We also have online classes available for students in NSW – so you won’t miss out on any valuable Chemistry time this year! Take advantage of our 1-1 classes where you can get your past papers marked, ask questions about homework, or just speak to one of our HSC Chemistry Mentors.
Click here to find out more about our HSC Chemistry tuition courses.
Written by our Talent 100 HSC Chemistry Mentor, Chris Skellern.